Gergiev, Matsuev and Mariinsky ignite in memorable evening of Russian music

Denis Matsuev performed Rachmaninoff's Piano Concerto No. 3 with Valery Gergiev and the Mariinsky Orchestra Tuesday night at Symphony Center.

Put Russian conductor Valery Gergiev on a podium and the usual result is musical fireworks. Pair him with his hometown orchestra, St. Petersburg's venerable Mariinsky Orchestra, and the chemistry becomes combustible, especially when the sensational Moscow-born pianist Denis Matsuev is a guest.

...Now 35, Matsuev stunned Chicago audiences two years ago with the same concerto when he made his local debut with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra at the Ravinia Festival. As with any superb pianist, it isn't simply astounding technical facility that causes audiences to start making comparisons with legends such as Vladimir Horowitz. True, at Tuesday night's performance Matsuev was totally in command of Rachmaninoff's blinding-fast arpeggios and the knotty, densely packed chords that thundered up and down the keyboard.

More thrilling, however, was the joyful way he rode the concerto's treacherous waves, rising and plunging in complete unison with the orchestra like a surfer at the top of his form. In introspective solo passages Matsuev's tone was intimate yet full-bodied, a seamless extension of the Mariinsky's lustrous texture. In more stormy moments, he was a distinct yet fully integrated voice, neither swamped by the orchestra nor stridently dominating it. After the flashy Rachmaninoff, his encore-Liadov's quiet, silvery Music Box-was a modest, endearing gesture.

Wynne Delacoma, Chicago Classical Review

"The atmosphere was electric before a recital by the pianist Denis Matsuev at Carnegie Hall on Saturday night...In concert and on disc Mr. Matsuev has mostly specialized in finger-busting virtuoso pieces. But what was most striking about the account of Schumann's 'Kinderszenen' that opened this recital was the delicacy and introversion of his playing. Starting at a hushed volume and a relaxed pace he phrased with a dreamy freedom that had the feeling of spontaneous invention. Tumultuous passages [in Liszt's Sonata in B Minor] here were almost over- whelmingly raucous. But his poetic instincts held fast in tender moments, with trills as thrillingly precise as one might ever hope to hear...He superbly captured the moody fluctuations of Prokofiev's Sonata No.7, from anxiety to brittleness to haunted rumination, and offered a primal performance of the roiling Precipato finale. Tumultuous ovations elicited five encores...each greeted with increased passion...When it ended, one fully expected to see smoke curling from his fingertips."

New York Times
"...the very real thing - an absolute powerhouse of a pianist...But Matsuev is more than a muscular phenomenon. He is also a thoughtful, proportionate and highly sensitive musician...I admired the way Matsuev emphasized the essential inwardness of this music; he let it sing out sweetly, modestly, rather than attempt to puff it up into fevered, stentorian pronouncement...Saturday's "Mephisto Waltz" may have been the most convincing performance I've heard of this music since the legendary William Kapell recording from 1942...Liszt is lucky to have such champions."
Washington Post

"...And Russian powerhouse pianist, Denis Matsuev, in his first BSO collaboration, couldn't be much more impressive...Siberian-born Matsuev, winner of the 1998 Tchaikovsky Competition in Moscow, approached Rachmaninoff's Piano Concerto No. 2 with refreshing directness, lyricism that never turned sticky, and good old-fashioned crowd-pleasing bravura...His music-making had an air of both spontaneity and inevitability. Matsuev was as persuasive limning the melancholy melodic curves of the second movement as he was tearing through the finale's whirling flourishes."

The Baltimore Sun
Review of Unknown Rachmaninoff
"...playng of blistering virtuosity...Matsuev's performances have to stand comparison with other great pianists past and present. And it sounds on this evidence as though he has little to fear. The fast movements of the second sonata...are dispatched at a thrilling level of intensity and with rock-sollid technique...In sum then this is a fine disc featureing some very powerful palying by Matsuev. The new music deserves to be heard and receives performances tha it would be hard to better and the better known fillers are no less expertly played. Highly recommended."
Hugo Shirley,

"A Robust Rachmaninoff...Pianist Denis Matsuev won the 1998 International Tchaikovsky Competition, and because of its unique prestige his appearance Sunday evening with the Bolshoi Symphony Orchestra at the Kennedy Center's Concert Hall would have been an occasion even if he had not been playing Rachmaninoff's notoriously difficult Third Piano Concerto. The concerto was for decades virtually the exclusive preserve of Vladimir Horowitz, but it has since become something of a repertory staple. Few can it play well, though; a good performance requires more sheer keyboard technique than most pianists ever develop, and a true romantic to shape large melodic contours convincingly through a veritable blizzard of notes. Matsuev carried it off...he has a large frame and powerful shoulders that he used to telling effect in this most athletic of concertos. Rachmaninoff's huge sonorities were naturally gauged and beautifully voiced and they sounded all the more impressive because they crested logically from dynamic shading that made musical sense and often developed from eloquent pianissimos. Matsuev's nuanced touch was immediately evident from the icy clarity of the circling Russian folk song that opens the concerto. He played the alternate cadenza in the first movement, negotiating its massive chords with impulsive energy and achieving weight without thickness or loss of forward motion. Arcs of melody in the second movement give way to repeated notes that must be individuated with mathematical precision, and Matsuev provided it. In the last movement he built to a blazing conclusion but prepared it carefully, caressing a wealth of counter melody and balancing sonic outbursts against moments of quiet repose. Matsuev played two encores. Schumann's Traumerei was marvelously articulated but Matsuev sent the audience into a frenzy with several minutes of thoroughly idiomatic, wildly virtuosic jazz."

Washington Post
"The young Siberian piano virtuoso Denis Matsuev produced a perfect storm...He has a huge percussive sound, he sprinted up and down the keyboard, his fingers a herd of wild stallions. For all the blazing notes, he is a serial arsonist. For the fiercest tempos, he is a Prometheus of strength...he can turn delicate passages with all the suitable delicacy."

"Tchaikovsky's Piano Concerto No. 1, the program's glamour item, received a knock-em dead performance from pianist, Denis Matsuev. The concerto is notoriously susceptible to flash-dash virtuosity. Pushed in that direction, its melodies can quickly become grandiose, overshadowing the work's musical values. For all its technical wizardry, Matsuev's reading was also thoughtful. Focusing attention on the composer's ideas rather than the soloist's image enabled him to avoid mere technical display. This restraint never robbed the music of its excitement. Digging deep into the bass register, Matsuev handled the subdued Andante magically, the lyric sections gossamer thin. He then tore through the last movement in keeping with the composer's 'con fuoco' instructions, while never lapsing into the frantic. Matsuev graciously responded to a standing ovation with two delightful encores. After playing a witty paraphrase of Rossini's 'Barber of Seville' by Liszt, he turned to jazz, improvising in a harmonically intriguing vein. Apparently his heroes include the great Oscar Peterson. What a razzle-dazzle show this titanic pianist put on!"

Worcester Telegram & Gazette
"Sitting ramrod straight, the tall, solidly built Mr.Matsuev swayed only slighly as he dispatched tumultuous barrages with a ferocious intensity...Mr. Matsuev made his strongest impression with the sweetly spun fragility he brought to the introduction and the feather light touch he applied in the second movement's dazzling waltz-time section."
The New York Times
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